Sunday, May 25, 2008

Request for Prayer

Language - Please continue to pray for language learning, my attitude and approach to the process.

Future Ministry -
Kansai Christian School was designated at field council as the official location of my future ministry assignment after I finish language school. (To see the school’s website for more information about the school click here.) I’m thrilled to be (finally) heading back into the classroom (It’s been 8 years since I last taught elementary students!). The current plan is for me to finish language school in March 2009 and move to Osaka/Nara area to continue part time language study and prepare to teach beginning September 2009.


However,
there exists a great tension with my need for language study and the school’s need for a teacher. The school has asked my mission to release me from language study early to help fill one of the teaching positions. There will be a meeting of leaders in my mission Wednesday, May 28 to discuss the schools request and decide how to respond.

For the 2008-09 School year there are 3 teaching positions needing to be filled including 1st/2nd grade, 7-12 grade English, and a 9-12 Math/Science teacher. This is a small school Kindergarten through 12 grade with 40 to 50 students, about 6 or 7 teachers so that means about half of the positions are open!


As is true for many Christian schools overseas there are many teaching positions and so few applicants, yet, it is a job with amazing opportunities for positive influence among students within a non-Christian culture like Japan.



Pray that God would provide qualified teachers enthusiastic about teaching in Japan to fill these positions. (May I be bold enough to ask you to pray for more than a string of long-term (2 month) substitute teachers, but for teachers willing to commit to at least a year?) If you know of someone who may be interested in applying click here for to find the application form.

Pray for wisdom as my mission and I respond to the request for me to fill a teaching position earlier than anticipated. Pray for guidance as to the timing of my move from Tokyo area to Osaka/Nara area with relation to language study needs and teaching needs.

Weekend update

Sorry the creative juices have been all used up in my focus on kanji study tonight - so here's the not-so-creative-without-photo-list - of events the last few days . . .

Thursday
- Took the "quiz" (my teacher refuses to use the word test) - How did it go? you ask - Well, let's just say it was a learning experience - which - I guess is the purpose of such things. The evening was spent relaxing and reflecting at "Bunca - Coffee with Jazz".

Friday - started with an interesting conversation with the manager of the apartment building behind my house - brought up some observations and questions about Japanese conflict resolution - I'm not sure I completely understood the conversation but I think she wants me to trim my tree that is intruding on their parking lot.
For lunch, I enjoyed a visit from my classmates Zach and Mihwa who where kind enough to help eat (tabete kuremashita) the rest of the clam chowder despite the 80 degree weather outside. It was a fun time of interacting with classmates/friends in my little part of Tokyo. (They both live downtown so my "big" house in the country is quite a contrast.)

Saturday - started the morning studying Japanese on my own and then had an interesting conversation with 2 Japanese Jehovah Witnesses who came to my door. I don't agree with their theology and can't yet discuss such topics in Japanese - but used our conversation as a way to practice my Japanese. =0)
The afternoon was spent playing volleyball- I love the chance to attack the ball and play front row blocker despite my 5'3'' height! The evening was spent with family/friends talking via Skype. First with my twin sister and then a friend I've known since Jr. High who is celebrating her birthday (Tanjoubi omedetou!) and going to have a baby soon - very soon. I'm so thankful for easy access to technology such as Skype and internet.

Sunday - today I visited Kokubunji Baptist Church. I visit a different church almost each weekend as I'm getting to know the churches around Tokyo and take the opportunity to introduce myself as the new BGC missionary. It's so amazing to see the variety among churches and how the church often reflects the personality of the church leadership. I enjoyed lunch with my friend and fellow missionary Jane, and then spent the afternoon with more Japanese study. I'm preparing for the Kanji quiz tomorrow - learning this week's 25 kanji characters will put me at 205 total (only 1795 more until I can read the newspaper!! - baby steps - baby steps!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Learning Curves, Slumps and Sources of Worth

"Noodles" cartoon by Gwen Muranaka from Japan Times Online.

Wednesday evening I did look back over the last six months - but more as a way to complete the required writing of my annual report for my mission than as a way of relaxing. I did realize how amazingly, abundantly God has blessed - but unfortunately my looking to the future was done in a way that was not so optimistic. Doubts crept in. The "What If's" took up residence. My reflection and vision were torn. Comprehension of how God has worked in the past and faith in his future grace exited stage left. My current frustrations with my own language learning took center stage and I didn't respond well.

Wednesday in class, one of my teachers asked us (the missionaries) to reflect on our language learning progress. How we're doing - where we think we're at compared to our own expectations. She talked about the different ways people learn and how learning curves look different for different people. Some look like a steady upward diagonal line, some like stair steps going up (mostly), some like an airplane taking off the runway but only leaving the ground late in the semester, some more like a roller coaster ride. She talked about "slumps".

And I thought - "Is it that obvious? - I feel like I'm moving backwards linguistically and she can see this?" I didn't enjoy the conversation - but it was necessary and produced more personal reflection later.

Yes, I feel I'm in a slump. More so now than any time before, I find myself wondering - why I don't "get" what people are saying when others in my class are getting it. Why do my efforts still end with scores on tests that reflect lack of understanding. How can I face the rest of the year let alone rest of the semester if I don't see progress. How is it possible to be putting all this information in my head but not able to pull the right word files out when I need them? I'm losing confidence in my language learning abilities. No this is not an impossible task - infants are born and raised to learn the Japanese language, therefore as a "capable" adult I should be able to learn too. But I realize I must think about how I'm approaching language learning and make adjustments where needed.

Wednesday evening as I was studying for the test on Thursday - the first adjustment began - my mental/spiritual approach to language learning. I started my study session with journaling/praying about my current learning and the voices - messages I was hearing in my head. It was one of the hardest evenings I've had while in Japan -one of a battling - but very necessary. As I realized how often I look for my self-worth based on my language learning abilities, my performance, my test scores, my propensity to compare myself to other language learners.

I faced my fears, I looked closely at the "what if's", "the doubts", I took captive the negative thoughts and tried to begin replacing them with Truth. I went to Ephesians and poured over the words - who am I based on my identity in CHRIST (regardless of test scores), tried again to get a grip on how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. And then I began the actual review of material for the 3 page "quiz".

"Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, [JAPANESE] words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel." - Ephesians 6: 19 (NIV - click here for the chapter)

I'm so thankful for so many people out there who are praying for me during this language learning process. There is nothing like taking away your previous method of communicating and replacing it with one that seems completely opposite to make you realize how much of who you are is based in how you communicate. Language learning forces me to discover more of myself and my brokenness - I am not all right - but that's why I need Christ and lots of people interceding for me in prayer!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Typhoon changes plans

Well - that was the plan - The pre-scheduled blog post (click here) about my plans to celebrate 6 months in Japan proved me very wrong.

"Noodles" Cartoon from Gwen Muranaka found in the Japan Times Online

I woke up Tuesday and learned that a Typhoon (or at least part of it) had arrived in Japan. I knew it had been windy and rainy Monday night but since I don't have TV access (yet) my weather reports are a bit limited. Due to the morning's weather my scheduled meeting with Elaine was reschedule to another day.

I decided to take the bus to the train station along with everyone else who had chosen to leave their bikes at home and join the dripping crowds on bus. The typical 20 minute ride took 50 minutes - the roads were filled with cars and I could have walked to the station faster - although I would have arrived soaked from the rain. Thankfully, I had left the house early (hoping to get some study time and coffee along the way) and arrived at class (without coffee) just in time to start.

During class however the weather took a turn for the better and skies cleared. Classmates and I had lunch at a new Subway sandwich shop near our language school. Then I had a chance to join my classmate Mihwa for Japanese conversation and coffee at "Sutarba". (I'm told that's what Japanese people call "Starbucks". =0).

The evening was spent making Clam Chowder with the remaining clams - which I learned are called "kai" in Japanese. I adjusted a recipe from "Joy of Cooking" using various ingredients I had on hand - including lots of mushrooms. (click here and here if you missed the previous clam story.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the official 6th month anniversary of my arrival in Japan as a career missionary with the Baptist General Conference. To celebrate I think I'll go to Japanese language class and prepare for a big quiz (otherwise known as a midterm TEST) coming Thursday. Then I'll come home and have my mentorship/Bible study with Elaine, then find yet another clam recipe to create for supper. After which I'll relax by reading my journal in the evening and looking back over how God has poured out his abundant blessings and dream about what the next 6 months might be like.


What's for dinner . . .

After reading my post yesterday
you probably have guessed I'll be eating clams for dinner for a while!

After some online research I figured out how to prepare (aka safely kill them so as not to make oneself sick) the live clams.
Basically - I gave the clams a good scrub, a soaking, and then bath - over hot coals. Sounds like a Japanese onsen, ne?
Tonight I dined on clam fettuccine with fresh herbs from my "garden", tomatoes and onions.
I enjoyed this with some Grapetiser - a sparkling beverage I discovered in South Africa - and can now find in my local Kaldi's import food store. It was a fun way to celebrate tomorrow's big day!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What REAL missionaries do!?!

How . . . thoughtful!
Arigato gozaimashita! Thank you so much!
Sugoi! - WOW

Tonight about 7 :30 pm my doorbell rang (a very rare occurrence especially on a Sunday evening!) When I answered the door I saw my neighbor there with a gift for me. Last time she brought cute bag of homemade pastries, today was, well - a bit different.

Apparently she and her husband had taken the kids (age 7, 5 and 2) to the sea today and their gift for me was 1 kg of their 10 kilo harvest - of clams!!!!




I was shocked, but remembered to say Thank you and asked, "Dou tsukurimasu ka?"
Which I think means "How do I prepare/make it?" She said to put them in water as they are still living, add sake (rice wine) - and then I can make clam chowder, or pasta, or miso soup. At least that's what I think she said.

How very kind of her to think of me and share their harvest with me!

WOW! I love cooking, but must admit this is my first time to have to actually kill the food before I cook it! I live in Tokyo - I'm used to going to a grocery store to buy food. But I guess this is what "real" missionaries do! hee hee! I'm just thankful she didn't come with a live chicken or goat! I'd be even more tempted to keep it as a pet!

I'm actually online right now looking up how to properly kill, clean, and cook clams. I hear the clams squirming in the kitchen as I type. CRAAAZY - it sounds a lot like farting noises! Well, enjoy your last few squirms cuz - Soon you will be part of a scrumptious meal.

(For those of you out there with expertise in this area of cooking- please email me a recipe or link! I'd feel bad if I kill and cook the clams and then the meal turns out to be a disaster! Where's the Lynne Rossetto Kasper and The Splendid Table's Clam bake podcast when you need it??)

Oh, I love my neighbor and this culture of gift giving! =0)


Note of Explanation: "REAL missionaries" is a reference to the thought that most missionaries live in remote places and have to kill their food before eating it - unlike missionaries, such as myself, who are "city dwellers" living in first world cultures. Yes - many missionaries still live in remote places and their practice for gathering food is very different than mine, perhaps this is a skill I should learn - How to make recipes with very fresh clams! Meanwhile - since there are unreached people groups living in remote areas as well as cities, the need for missionaries exists - making us all "real missionaries".

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Will of God



The will of God is . . .
always different
from what you expect,
always bigger
and
ultimately
and
infinitely
more glorious
than your wildest imaginings.

But
there will be
deaths to die.

- Elizabeth Elliot

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Haha no Hi



Happy Mother's Day!
In Japanese - you refer to your own mother as
haha
(However, if you were talking directly to your mother or about someone else's mother you use the word
okasan) hi means day, and no here works like a possisive "s". That's how you get haha no hi.
To see last year's post about my both my haha click here.

Happy Mother's day to the new mom's out there! I want to give a shout out to
my friends who have been visiting the labor and delivery room of their local hospital recently like . . . Cole's mom, Liam's mom, Lukas' mom, Will's mom, and Lydia's mom, and to those who will be soon (14 more babies of friends to be born between now and September) . . . Hope this haha no hi brings some unexpected joys!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Coffee with Jazz

Discovering new places -
Last week, as I came home from Japanese class, I worked up the courage to enter a coffee shop that I've passed many times but never had the guts to enter. From the sign (in English) - it was obvious this was a coffee shop, while I love finding new local places for coffee - and I pass this place every time I go to or come home from the train station, from the outside - this place was intimidating. It has only two small windows blocked by bushes so there is no way to know from the outside what to expect when you enter it. On this day, I had worked up the energy and entered. Boy am I glad I did! It's a quaint little place. Two walls have shelves of records on them, not CDs or MP3s but LP record albums! And the record player had Jazz music playing.
I spent my afternoon enjoying some chocolate cake and coffee with jazz, while working on memorizing my Japanese essay about food and relationships. By the time I finished memorizing the essay, I was the only customer in the place and had a chance to talk with the owner a little about jazz music. He asked where I was from, what jazz musician I liked and if I had a CD player. I said I'm from America, I liked listening to the musicians he had played and yes, I had a CD player. As I was about to leave, he handed me the CD "Nocturne" by bassist Charlie Haden to listen to. What an unexpected gift!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kodomo no Hi - Boy's Day

May 5 was Kodomo no Hi, (which translates as Children's day), but since Girl's day was back in March, this is celebrated as Boy's Day. The decorations in the home include a Samuri like helmets and flags of flying fish called koi outside the houses where boys live. The flags are called Koi nobori. Parents will pray for health, growth and the happiness of their children. This photo was taken a couple blocks from my house, this was the largest Koinobori I saw. Click here for more information about Boy's Day.

Other holidays this week were April 29 - Birthday of former Emperor Showa, now celebrated at Green Day - a nature appreciation day. May 3 is Constitution Memorial day, commemorating the constitution which came into effect on this day in 1947. And then Boy's day May 5th.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Making Space - the Rest of the Story

Note to reader: read the previous blog entry before reading this one - it'll make more sense.

Sunday,
on my way home from the restaurant where I had just spent my lunch time reflecting on making space for relationships, I saw a little spot on the side of the road selling flowers that I had passed numerous times as I was rushing to one place or another. On this day, I stopped my bike, looked at the flowers and an elderly lady greeted me as she corralled her blind dog home. (Blindness was concluded from the number of times the dog collided with objects like walls and telephone poles) I looked at the flowers, decided on one raspberry plant and a type of daisy and I put three 100 yen coins in the money box.

As I was loading the plants into my bike basket another lady and her daughter came up to me and started talking to me. She seemed to be the woman that had grown the flowers and I tried to talk with her (in Japanese) about flowers. Eventually she asked if I liked alyssum. I said yes, in fact my mom has some in her garden. She had me follow her down the driveway to her garden and as I admired her bonsai plants she put some alyssum in a container for me to take home. I was again greeted by the elderly lady (apparently a mother of the Plant selling lady) and was introduced the the 12 year-old dog "that can't see".

We talked a bit more
. . .

Her - Which area in the neighborhood do you live?

Me - Up the hill by the clothing store, near such and such elementary school (there are no street names)
Her - Oh- do you live in such and such appartment building?
Me - No, I live in a house, it is owned by the company I work for.
Her - Do you live with your family?

Me - No - by myself

Her - Is it lonely?
(as awkward as that question feels coming from a stranger- it is a VERY common question from Japanese people when they hear the strange news that I'm living alone - in a house - this just isn't common in Japan.)
Me - Um - sometimes - but I am meeting new friends and studying Japanese at a school during the week.

After a little more talking, an introduction to her inline skate wearing daughter and their 2-year-old poodle. She asked me something about the Iris plant - I think she asked - "Do you like Irises?" And before I could answer she grabbed her scissors and cut off two stems for me to take home and put in a vase. I was amazed - just 5 days before I had stopped at a park to take some photos of irises, I had been in awe of God's creativity with this plant. I have no idea if a friendship will develop deeper with this generous lady or her family - but I am in awe of God's creativity with relationships and glad he taught me about making space today.

Making Space



I recently attended Kurume Bible Fellowship, an multinational church with worship service in English and Japanese. I'd been feeling the need to worship with others in my native tongue. And throughly enjoyed the worship and teaching. I had visited this church about a month ago and know a few of the church members, after 4 weeks with 4 different churches it felt good to go to a place were at least a handful of people know my name.

The Sunday school class I attended was studying the John Ortberg book "When the Game is Over it all goes back in the Box". We were discussing relationships - Loving God and loving others. We had 3 questions to consider . . .
  1. Often we cheat our relationships for the sake of money or our work. Are there other things that you are likely to put ahead of relationships? Think of some schemes the devil might be using on you to isolate you from others.
  2. Ortberg talks about our not being able to make friendships or love happen . . . that we can only make space for them to happen. What are some things you could do in your life to make space for friendships to happen?
  3. "Help someone else win"- Many people in our world live lives of isolation and need help to break out. Think of ways to draw (one person you know) out of isolation into community.
As we discussed these questions I realized I'd been building my own little cave of isolation. Putting Japanese study over relationships. How ironic when these relationships would be with Japanese speaking people and give me a chance to use what I'm learning! (I didn't say it was a smart choice - but it was a choice.)

Later, as I took time to look at some of the relationships I do have in Japan, I realized I can easily classify as acquaintances, colleagues, and classmates but I'm not sure how many relationships I'd qualify as solid friendships. Nor am I certain how to clearly define the hoped for level of friendship. However I do know that for these relationships to develop into friendships will take time, space, energy, and a willingness to endure my own Japanese mistakes. How can I do this? What does friendship with a Japanese person look like? After a time of journaling and reflection on Sunday, I asked God to show me how to make space for relationships.

Tamago



I've been doing some grocery shopping lately. I can buy only what fits into my bike baskets, as I don't have a car and the bike will carry more than my hands. My closest grocery store is about 2 minutes from my house by bike, very convenient! This grocery store just opened it's doors in March and the hours are unusually long for Japanese grocery stores - most close at 10 or 11pm but this store doesn't close until 1am!

During my shopping I have noticed a few differences in the food sold in Japan compared to America. Like sizes of containers and prices of food.

Here's one difference you might enjoy -Tamago which is Japanese for Egg(s).
Look at the package - notice anything different?

They are sold in groups of 10 - not 12. Often I can find groups of 4 or 6 eggs but not 12. They are also labeled with a stamp or sticker with the package date on each egg! The egg carton is plastic and recyclable. This set 10 of tamago cost 198 yen or about $1.98. How much do you pay for eggs?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

IKEA - Fun in Funabashi

So where do people go in Japan to decorate a home? Well, being this is Tokyo, there are lots of places to spend money - but one of my recent outings was to IKEA. There are 2 locations in Tokyo (and soon will be one in Kansai! Whoohoo!) From my house to IKEA is about a 2 hour train ride from one part of Tokyo to another. Upon arrival I realized I would need to be able to carry everything I purchased via train, so I was very selective in what I bought. (Yes, Ikea will deliver - for a fee). I went there during my semester break with my "shopping consultant"- Mihwa. After we ate lunch (Swedish meatballs and Japanese curry) we had an afternoon filled with lots of laughter as we loaded our bags with as much stuff as we could carry. My main purpose for going was to find something to replace the functional, yet clashing, dining room curtains and rug (which formerly belonged to other missionaries). While I was grateful for curtains to block the view of my dinning room from the neighboring parking lot, after 2 weeks of this combination I needed something - ANYTHING that wouldn't make me dizzy while I ate breakfast! So here you have the before and after photos . . .
BEFORE
Mae no kitchin wa minikui desu ne? The 'before' Kitchen is difficult to look at, isn't it?
AFTER
The green and white pattern was Mihwa-san idea and although I had my doubts at first, I really like how it turned out. The green and white leaf pattern add color to otherwise white and brown room, and the sheers allow me to let light in yet restrict the view of neighbors.
While at IKEA - I also purchased a set of silverware, glasses, and cooking utensils! -
(Sorry Lisa, I didn't have room for napkins!)

Next week is 'Golden Week' in Japan, because there are multiple holidays in one week it's a time when many Japanese people go on a trip somewhere. I will have a week off from Japanese classes, so my plan is to figure out something creative to put up on the large "white spaces" (also known as walls) around my house. Perhaps I'll take a trip to a local craft or frame shop.